Old Heidelberg Serves an Authentic Bavarian Feast for Oktoberfest

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Few cultural festivals are more internationally celebrated than Oktoberfest, but odds are you have no idea how it came to be. It all started with a royal wedding.

On October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig was married to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in Munich. As was the case with any proper sovereign event, the area's commoners were invited to join in the affair. Festivities were set up on the fields next to the city's front gates. (The field picked up the moniker Theresienwiesse, or Therese's field, named for the princess.) The events culminated with a horserace, attended by the royals, several days later, on October 17. The following year, the horserace was repeated, resulting in the development of the tradition. Also, an agricultural show, intended to promote Bavarian agriculture, was added to the roster.

Over the past couple of centuries, much has changed. Carousel and games were incorporated. The dates were moved to late September to take advantage of better weather. And most important, a few beer stands with the backing of the local breweries, expanded to include massive tents and halls.

Once a local Bavarian festival, the two-plus week event now attracts more than 6 million visitors from around the globe. The pilgrimage, however, is no cheap thrill. So German bars, restaurants, beer halls, and cultural centers around the world honor the tradition in their own way.

Old Heidelberg Restaurant, New Times' 2014 pick for Best German Restaurant, is one of many.

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Driving into the parking lot is a bit like pulling up to a new world -- essentially the adult equivalent of the German section of Disney's Small World ride, without the annoying theme song. But the German-style tudor exterior is only the beginning.

The dimly lit eatery is like walking straight into a German beer hall: Dark wood-paneled walls are decked out with authentic knickknacks; a long tiled bar (with tenders donning dirndls and vests) is adorned with garlands, huge steins, and das boot glasses overhead; and many of the staff speak with charming German accents.

Owners Yvonne and Stephen Lieb­e make sure the fare is just as traditional. The menu features an array of dishes from around the country.

The Wiener schnitzel is one of the most popular items. Pork (though you can also specify veal for $4 more) is pounded into paper-thin cutlets, breaded, fried in butter, and served with red cabbage and potato salad. It's simple and satisfying.

A house specialty, the schnitzel is offered in a variety of styles. Jaeger schnitzel, translated from "hunters' schnitzel," takes the same cutlet and tops it with a creamy mushroom gravy and sides of spaetzle (essentially strips of homemade dumpling) and red cabbage.

Schweinshaxe "Old Munich" is one of the traditional Bavarian specialties. Translated directly to pork knuckle, the dish is composed of a massive roasted pork shank with dumplings and sauerkraut. According to Yvonne, it's about three or four pounds of meat.

Sausages, however, are the favored dish of Old Heidelberg's Oktoberfest.

Brought in from a local specialty butcher, about a half-dozen sausage-plate options are available at the restaurant. The Oktoberfest mixed plate is the most in demand. With Bavarian bratwurst, Frankfurter knockwurst, Nürnberger rostbratwurst, Polish kielbasa, smoked pork chop, meatball, red cabbage, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes, it provides a good overview of the sausage and meat selection.

But according to Yvonne, it's the weisswurst that are the most traditional for the festival. Made of minced veal and pork back, the colorless encased meat appropriately means white sausage. While perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing food item, it's delicious, with hints of lemon, parsley, onion, and other spices. Just as one would find in Bavaria, it's served with sweet mustard. Sauerkraut and potato salad make it a meal.

Yvonne recognizes that the American renditions of Oktoberfest celebrations are not tied to the actual dates of the festival, but for her, it's all about having fun.

To celebrate, the restaurant hosts parties every weekend, with Ukrainian and German dancers, games, beer specials, and drinking competitions, including a beer-holding contest in which participants must hold a full liter of beer as long as possible. (The record is just under six minutes.)

The monthlong celebration culminates with a Halloween a costume party with a number of specials.

Old Heidelberg Restaurant is located at 900 W. State Road 84 in Fort Lauderdale. Open Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 4 to midnight. Call 954-463-6747, or visit heidelbergfl.com

Wiener schnitzel $17.99

Jaeger schnitzel $19.99

Beef steak frikadelle $15.99

Schweinshaxe market price

Oktoberfest mixed plate $17.99

Weisswurst $14.99

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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